Security expert weighs in on weapons in schools

In the wake of a second handgun incident at a Bibb County school this year, Telegraph reporter Joe Kovac Jr. spoke to Ken Trump, a school safety expert, by phone Thursday about the issue of weapons in schools. Trump is president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland, Ohio, consulting firm. Trump has appeared on several network TV news programs and been quoted in major newspapers and magazines.

QUESTION: How can school officials address the outcry from parents who complain that not enough is being done about security?

ANSWER: Schools have to be talking and acting proactively on school security issues far before any specific incident. ... Oftentimes, schools are somewhat hesitant to talk with parents about school safety because they fear adverse publicity or that it would somehow create a negative image in the eyes of the school community. Secondly, schools need to candidly acknowledge what does occur in school and not be apologetic for it. If a kid is caught with a gun in school and it hasn’t been used, while some school administrators may look at that as negative publicity, the reality is that there’s good news there in that the weapon wasn’t used, that a kid came forward and a potential act of violence was prevented. Sometimes people fail to see the good news aspect of an incident like this. ... Schools reflect broader society, and when we have crime and drugs and violence out in our broader society, most reasonable parents are gonna understand that some of those things are gonna creep past the schoolhouse door.

QUESTION: What is the best way to keep kids from taking guns to school?

ANSWER: The No. 1 place that weapons come from is the home. So while parents often want to focus on schools having metal detectors as a quick-fix answer to a gun incident, really the first and best line of defense starts at the home, with the families who have weapons to make sure that kids don’t have access to them.

QUESTION: So metal detectors aren’t a cure-all?

ANSWER: While on the surface it sounds like a good solution, the real story rests within the implementation of such a program. Metal detectors have been used in school districts across the country that are large, urban districts with a chronic history of weapons who, quite frankly are engaging metal detectors to help put out the fires of a chronic weapons and violence problem.

QUESTION: What are the shortcomings of metal detectors?

ANSWER: First of all, you’re not going to be doing metal detection at the bus stop or as the children walk out of the homes or outside on campus as they’re waiting to get into the doors. ... Are you going to hire additional security to staff all the other doors to make sure someone doesn’t slip in? Are you going to be able to secure first-floor windows so that one kid doesn’t hand a weapon through a window? Are you going to run those metal detectors 24/7, including for evening plays and athletic practices and events where parents come? Are you going to metal-detect your staff? Are you going to do it on the weekends where you may have teachers and staff come in? ... It’s extremely labor- and time-intensive to do it 100-percent right if you’re going to do it. And even then, it doesn’t give that guarantee that parents are looking for.

QUESTION: How do teachers and school officials usually find out about weapons on campus?

ANSWER: From kids who report to an adult that they trust that another student has a weapon. So those relationships have to be fostered, because that’s really the first and best line of defense.

QUESTION: What are some misconceptions about guns in schools?

ANSWER: One gun is one too many, and we don’t want to minimize that, but actually one of the most common weapons in schools is not guns but rather bladed weapons — knives, box cutters and razor blades. And, beyond that, we have to realize that the vast majority of students who are in school do not have any weapons at all.

QUESTION: How often do girls get caught sneaking guns into school?

ANSWER: While a large number of cases involve males, it’s been increasingly common over the past decade to see girls bring weapons.